CLEMSON -- Clemson returned to spring practice Monday, searching for offensive depth and stars to emerge. The following are five offensive players to watch as the Tigers retool for 2010.
1. OT Brandon Thomas
Outside of quarterback Kyle Parker, left tackle Chris Hairston is arguably the most important asset on offense. When Hairston missed several games last season due to injury, the Tigers' offense struggled as it lacked a second option at the position.
It's critical Clemson develops another tackle who can protect the blind side, not only as a contingency plan for this season but looking forward to 2011.
Thomas is listed as the second team left tackle and seems to have the most ability among the reserves to play the position, which demands size, strength and athleticism.
Rivals.com rated the 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman as the 14th best tackle prospect in the country in 2009.
2. WR Bryce McNeal
Dabo Swinney said receiver is the "quarterback" competition of this spring's camp with seven players competing for three starting positions. And no receiver from the group arrived to campus more highly touted than McNeal, a consensus top 100 recruit.
Swinney says McNeal's athleticism "jumps out" as does his smooth route running and reliable hands.
McNeal also possesses a 4.45 second 40-yard dash time, which gives him some of the best speed amongst the wide receiving a corps, and a chance to compete with Marquan Jones to fill the stretch-the-field receiver position vacated by Jacoby Ford.
McNeal arrived on campus last season as a rail-thin true freshman. He's added 10 pounds to his 6-1 frame, weighing in at 179 pounds this spring. The staff wants him at 185.
He's also a friend and favorite of quarterback Tajh Boyd. The two are roommates and spent last fall working together on the scout team.
3. WR Jaron Brown
Swinney has raved about Brown's athleticism since he arrived on campus.
The staff often talks of the redshirt sophomore's star potential.
Against Coastal Carolina last fall, Brown flashed that potential during an 18-yard TD catch with one of the most impressive run-after-catch showings by a Clemson receiver last year. But Brown struggled with inconsistency and finished with just three catches for 30 yards.
The 6-2, 195-pound Brown has developed slowly, coming from a Wing-T offense in high school. Brown might want to start tapping into that potential quickly, as the position will only get deeper in the fall when highly-touted freshmen DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant arrive to campus.
4. QB Donny McElveen
With Kyle Parker owning a 1400 (on-base plus slugging percentage) and having already smashed a team-best nine homers for Jack Leggett's team, all eyes are fixed on Plan B at quarterback -- redshirt freshman Boyd.
But if Parker should elect to play baseball exclusively this fall, Boyd will need a backup, and that could be the grandson of Summerville High coach John McKissick.
McElveen, a two-star recruit according to Scout.com, turned down a scholarship offer to Central Florida to walk on at Clemson last fall. The staff likes his tools, and with the departure of Willy Korn, combined with Parker's uncertain playing status, the 6-2 redshirt sophomore has become a darkhorse at QB.
5. RB Roderick McDowell
The man they call "Hot Rod" is vying to become this year's Andre Ellington as a redshirt freshman. Ellington and Jamie Harper will split the lion's share of the workload at running back, but depth is always a concern at the position and the role of third back is McDowell's to lose.
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